Over the last week or so there has been some debate about commerical theme pricing, It started with a post on WPCandy by Mike McAlister basically saying that ThemeForest's pricing of around $35 was too low. His reasoning was that themes have evolved and are much more than simple templates now; most of them include very sophisticated admin panels to let users customize the look of the theme. Sellers on the Envato marketplaces also provide support for their themes, some go as far as to set up forums dedicated to supporting their customers. At $35 for a theme, minus the cut that the marketplace takes, sellers are sometimes left with little for their efforts.
Collis Ta'eed the founder of Envato and all the marketplaces then posted his thoughts on running a marketplace. This was a really interesting read for me, I have followed Envato as a company from the very start and think it's great what they have achieved as a company and what they have given to the design community in general.
Collis' opinion about pricing was that he grew up in Papua New Guinea, a place which has "very poor socio-economic conditions. In short it’s a place where some have plenty, and others have nothing.This background raised me with a predisposition to making things accessible. I’ve seen a place where only some people can afford stuff, and frankly it sucks." He also says that "At Envato our philosophy of accessibility of price is also about providing the best opportunity for authors. Large markets and high volume equate to big sales."
The "Pile it High and Sell it Cheap" philosophy.
I tend to come down on the side that the themes should be priced a little higher, $35 for a professionally designed and coded design for your website: How much would that cost if you went to a web design company and had a theme made from scratch ?
I understand Collis' philosophy of wanting to provide themes cheaply because of his background, but there are thousands of free themes that people can use of a high quality so no one is prevented from using WordPress due to price. Because WordPress is open source and there are so many free themes and plugins available, some users expect everything to be free. I've run into this when selling my own commerical plugins, people moaning that its not free - not understanding I have spent thousands on development of these plugins and have to spend my time supporting them.
I'm from a web design background and have dealt with many clients over the years and have learnt to not compete on price but offer higher quality for a higher price. Clients haggling for low prices often turn out to be the most painfull to deal with. I think the same thing applies to plugin and theme pricing - I would rather sell a smaller quantity for a higher price, you have less users to deal with and can offer your existing ones a better service.
I also see it from the Envato side of things - they provide an amazing opportunity with their marketplaces and no one is forcing theme designers to sell on there, they are welcome to go off and sell via their own site with full control of pricing but also the extra costs of marketing etc.
I think there is a compromise to be found, and thats to allow people to set their own pricing within a range, say from $25 to $75. There is something like this just launched for high-volume sellers who reach $75k in sales called Envato Elite which allows you to increase prices by 30% so the top price would be $46 if your theme is set at $35. I dont see why everyone cant be allowed to set their own prices. Sellers could tinker with their price: balancing more sales with a cheaper price against less sales with a higher price, till they find the sweet spot that works best for them and for Envato.